Why Nintendo No Longer Needs Its Mascots At Launch

We may not get a new Zelda with the next console launch, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

By Jon Stevens. Posted 11/14/2014 13:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

It is clear why a company like Nintendo would want to have its mascots featuring front and centre during the launch of a new console: a vast majority of people buy Nintendo consoles for those big titles featuring characters like Mario and Link, and without them, these people may simply decide to hold off on buying for the time being. But it now seems like Nintendo is trying, to some extent, to shift some of the focus away from these franchises, either by reviving old series’ or through new IPs. In fact, even as someone who loves the company’s major franchises, I’ve increasingly begun to wonder whether Nintendo’s AAA characters are actually needed at launch any more.

In days gone past, you would be hard pressed to find a console (let alone a Nintendo console) launch without its star players. The NES had Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong, SNES had Super Mario World, and N64 had Super Mario 64, to name a few. In fact, Nintendo was so confident about the “pull factor” of Mario, that it only launched the N64 with two games in the US– Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64.

Since then, not only do console manufacturers release a more diverse array of first party titles, there’s also been a dramatic increase in the sheer number of titles available at launch. Again, to put it into perspective, N64 launched with just two games, GameCube launched with 12, while Wii U launched with a staggering 34 games in the US. Of course, not all of the Wii U launch titles were stellar, but they are still evidence of the seeming need for a greater variety at a console’s launch– something also shown in Nintendo’s own choice of first party launch titles.

With GameCube, for example, Nintendo made the surprising decision to launch with a new adventure starring the cowardly Luigi in Luigi’s Mansion. But, while the game quickly became a fan favourite (eventually seeing a 3DS sequel of course), gamers at the time were still left hungry for a proper Mario platformer– the soon to be released Super Mario Sunshine.

Meanwhile, with the release of Wii, it was the new IP, Wii Sports, which became the biggest game at launch, even (arguably) overshadowing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. That this “casual” game was able to generate more hype than a new Zelda titles speaks volumes about the message Nintendo was sending with Wii, and its success in this even at launch. Nintendo also made the decision to shift some of the spotlight onto third party developers, with titles like Red Steel and Rayman Raving Rabbids from Ubisoft particularly hyped. Such a push became even more evident at Wii U’s release, where third party titles like ZombiU received almost as much attention as Nintendo’s own offerings.

For me personally, while New Super Mario Bros. U was undoubtedly a joy to play during the launch window, my own excitement for that game in particular had in fact been reduced somewhat by New Super Mario Bros. 2 (released only a couple of months before), and so it was the other titles available which persuaded me to buy a Wii U at launch.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, is the launch of the 3DS, which was notable for releasing without any major franchises (Nintendogs + Cats, Pilotwings Resort, and Steel Diver making up the first party offerings). In fact, one of the biggest problems facing 3DS early in its life was a distinct lack of such games– something which even a remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time failed to solve.

Here, the lack of the big franchises clearly impacted the system early on in its life and led many to worry about the future of the handheld. While it’s easy to see just how unfounded these worries were now, the lesson from this is fairly clear: if Nintendo wasn’t going to have its big franchises available at launch, it had to offer something more compelling for gamers.

Undoubtedly, the lack of major first party titles at the 3DS launch was an attempt by Nintendo to encourage third party developers to release games for the system– something which was echoed to a lesser degree at the Wii U release, albeit with a few lessons learned from the 3DS.

The theme-park style Nintendo Land, while not quite the groundbreaking game that Wii Sports was, remained a fun collection of Nintendo-themed minigames. It may not have received the same reception that a new 3D Mario or Zelda game would have, but it achieved what it set out to do– namely being a fun, multiplayer romp. And I don’t feel like that is a bad thing. I, for one, actually spent more time playing Nintendo Land with friends then I did playing Nintendo’s other offering, New Super Mario Bros. U.

With the recent news that Nintendo plans to fill gaps in its library with more spin-offs, it seems like offering a wider array of titles is part of a deliberate strategy by Nintendo to diversify its list of franchises and get away from the preconception that Nintendo consoles only have Mario games.

Collaborations on projects like Hyrule Warriors, bring about a fresh new take on established franchises, while spin-offs like the upcoming Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker look to maintain the Nintendo quality outside of its main franchises in a way which a lot of spin-offs have failed to do. If Nintendo does continue with this strategy, maintaining that quality will be key. For me, this means staying clear of any Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix sequel!

From the sounds of things, though, by the time the successor to Wii U rolls around, there is a good chance that we should expect it to launch with a number of spin-off adventures alongside (or instead of) any traditional “big” Nintendo game. While these will never take the place of a proper 3D Mario game or Zelda, if it means that we get to play a wider array of games, I’m all for it.

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